The West sends armored war vehicles to Ukraine
TEVERY WEEK ago Ukraine’s top military commander, General Valery Zaluzhny, released his wish list for the military equipment he would need to repel the Russian offensive. “I know I can beat this enemy. But I need resources. I need 300 tanks, 600-700 IFVs, 500 Howitzers.” His appeal has been heard in Western capitals – in part. In a series of announcements, America, France and Germany all promised to send infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs).
Ukraine will have to wait for Western main battle tanks. But the armored vehicles that have been promised are a step towards that goal, and should do a lot to strengthen Ukraine’s fighting power once they arrive. The detailed numbers and models of the IFVhas not yet been published. America is committing “dozens” of Bradleys, part of a new package of military aid worth nearly $3bn – including Humvees, mine-resistant vehicles and a large number of missiles and other weapons – to be announced on 6 January. German reports said that 40 Marders might be sent. France is likely to provide the same number of AMX-10RCs.
The volume and coordination of the calls suggest a major Western effort to bolster Ukraine’s armed forces ahead of possible winter offensives. Unusually, it was France, often criticized for dragging its feet over the provision of military aid to Ukraine, that moved first. After speaking with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, President Emmanuel Macron announced on January 4 that “light tanks” had been dispatched – the French AMX-10RC vehicles – as part of France’s efforts to “increase military aid to Ukraine”. Mr Zelensky tweeted in response: “Your leadership will bring our victory closer.”
A day later, after a phone call between President Joe Biden and Chancellor Olaf Scholz, America and Germany said they would follow suit with Bradley and Marder combat vehicles respectively. Germany would also deploy a battery of Patriot anti-aircraft missiles to join one deployed by America to help Ukraine counter an onslaught of Russian missiles and drones targeting the base her energy structure.
It is not clear whether Mr Macron’s early announcement swayed a reluctant Mr Scholz, whose Social Democratic Party (SPD) reluctance to give proper arms to Ukraine, or whether it was choreographed to relieve Germany. Many in Berlin recommend the former; American officials take note of the latter, noting that the three leaders at one time had planned a joint publication.
IFVs takes place between main battle tanks and armored personnel carriers. They offer armor protection for squads and infantry, and carry large guns. They can take on many Russian tanks, especially older models. They should therefore greatly enhance Ukraine’s ability to maneuver on the battlefield. Western analysts believe they could help Ukraine penetrate Russian lines, building on last year’s success in pushing back invading forces from areas in or around Kyiv, Kharkiv and Kherson.
The French AMX-10RC, American Bradley and German Marder are somewhat different animals. The French vehicle is wheeled and relatively fast on roads and hard terrain, but has very thin armor. The heavier Bradley and Marder have tracks, which are more difficult to maintain but better at working on swampy ground in Ukraine, which has not frozen everywhere yet. All of them have impressive firepower that is likely to torture the Russian military.
The Marder is about ten years older than the other two models, but has been in the works of the Bundeswehr for decades. The AMX-10RC, which is currently partially fielded by the French army, is equipped with a large 105mm gun designed to take on Soviet tanks in the 1980s (sometimes called a “tank destroyer”). The Bradley has a smaller 25mm gun but was very effective against the Soviets T-72 tanks in the first Gulf War in 1991. Newer ones have thermal sights – a huge advantage against Russian units that are away from night fighting – and fire control systems that are almost identical. those in the M1A2 Abrams, America’s main tank. The Bradley can fire sabot rounds that would destroy even Russia’s newest tanks, if hit on the sides or behind, from about 2.5km away, according to an American officer with experience commanding the vehicle. Equally important is that the gun is stabilized as such, unlike the AMX-10RCit can shoot accurately while moving.
If enough Bradleys are sent in, he believes to the official, “It could be a game changer, maybe more than if they got an Abrams.” It would give Ukraine’s mechanized infantry much more firepower than they currently have.” Another veteran officer emphasizes the importance of practice IFVs along with tanks (the best of the West), infantry and other units to increase the punch. Surprisingly, the American army plans to train Ukrainian battalions in such military operations.
That said, operating three models of combat vehicles, each with different guns, increases Ukraine’s logistics and maintenance headaches as it manages a mix-and-match arsenal from across the world. NATO fellowship and beyond. In addition, Ukraine must design ways for the IFVs communicate effectively with each other and the units that accompany them.
Just as important as the military power they bring, the combat vehicles signal the West’s determination to continue helping Ukraine “as long as necessary”, in the words of Messrs Biden and Scholz, and continue to raise the military commitment. Also, the promise suggests that Germany has overcome some of its reservations about increasing with Russia, even despite Vladimir Putin’s threats and blandishments – the one about finally they ordered a short rest for the Orthodox Christmas.
Robert Habeck, Germany’s economy minister and vice chancellor from the Green party, praised the “good decision”. Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, a controversial liberal politician who has called for Marders provision for months, said: “The decision came very late, but not too late.”
A big question is whether the IFVs preparing the way for the delivery of Western tanks, which Ukraine is clamoring for. That is almost unbelievable. Eastern European allies have already donated refurbished Soviet-era tanks. Over the past ten months of fighting, in the face of Russian terror and impressive Ukrainian fighting grit, the West has abandoned one taboo after another regarding the weapons it is willing to provide. Last summer America started delivering the famous ones HIMMERS highly effective rocket system; last month, news broke that it would deploy a battery of Patriot anti-aircraft missiles.
Europe, in particular, is full of German-made Leopard tanks, whose diesel engines are easier to operate and maintain than Abrams turbines. But Germany, which needs permission to re-export, has so far refused to allow anyone to send them to Ukraine, to the dismay of many allies and even partners. Mr. Scholz’s bond.
Claudia Major of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, a think tank in Berlin, puts the SPDagainst a variety of factors, including his objections to militarism, fears of thinning Germany’s own forces, fears of an escalation with Russia, a tradition of maintaining friendly ties with the Kremlin and, especially, guilt over the second world war, when the Nazi military columns destroyed Russia.
As with the IFVs, says Ms Major, America will prove the decisive factor in releasing the Leopards. For all of Germany’s talk of leading Europe in defense, “you need the White House to unlock the chancellor.” ■